INDIANAPOLIS – Nearly 18 months later, the reaction still is hard for him to comprehend.
Chuck Pagano could see that first hand again at the “Chuckstrong Tailgate Gala” at the Colts complex on Friday night. People who donated to the fundraiser for the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center walked up and greeted the Colts’ head coach almost non stop during the event held inside the team’s indoor practice facility.
Having these 500 fans show up and donate for the event is just another way the community has shown support for Pagano since he was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia early in the fall of 2012. Seeing this support never gets old for the coach-and the awe which he feels when he greets people is still the same.
“They didn’t know me. I was only here six, seven, eight months, whatever it was,” said Pagano, who was only three games into his Colts head coaching career when he received his diagnosis. “The way that they embraced me and my family. You hear about ‘Hoosier Hospitality’ all the time but until you live it, the way that me and my family lived it, it’s a debt I’ll never be able to repay.
“The support was phenomenal.”
It still continues to be as Pagano and the Colts held the second annual tailgate gala at the complex. Last year the event raised 1.1 million dollars from corporate sponsorships, donations from the coach himself along with live and silent auction items. That along with items featuring the “Chuckstrong” hashtag have raised 454-thousand dollars have shown the incredible support the community has given to him and the cause over the past two years.
For Pagano it’s an emotional topic because he remembers how much the support meant to him in the heart of his cancer fight.
“There’s tough days. You spend almost a month in the hospital and the form of Leukemia I had was nothing compared to what so many people are dealing with,” said Pagano. “But just to have that support day in and day out from not only your loved ones-your wife and children-but the organization, Mr. (Jim) Irsay, the whole family and the great people of this city….
“We all have will to live, the good Lord gave us something inside of us when faced with adversity and circumstances. You know you’re strong enough to do anything but certainly the support was incredible.”
Of course Pagano’s efforts now are to use the support he received and pass it on to others that are battling the same form of Lukemia or a different kind of cancer. It’s what Friday’s event was all about and will continue to be for the coach even as he works to bring Indianapolis it’s second Super Bowl title.
“Somebody a long time ago gave, served some scientist, some doctor. I wouldn’t be standing here today if somebody hadn’t done the same thing a long, long time ago and came up with a cure for APL-the form of Leukemia that I had,” said Pagano. “The survival rate went from 50 percent to low 90s. We’re here tonight to do the same thing.”
With those whose own support encouraged him to do so.